Archive for the ‘consumption’ Category

Junk Mail and Phone Books

January 3, 2009

Want to reduce your resource consumption this year? Why not start by eliminating your junk mail and those mammoth door stops phone books?

You can call the companies sending you mail and request that they stop. Or you can sign up with an enterprise such as Green Dimes to have them do the work of eliminating junk mail.

You can also sign up for Green Dimes’ petition to ban junk mail.

For more information on stopping junk mail, check out the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.

(how is that for a screwy economic system—you have to take time and effort to request that resources not be used on your behalf!)

For the phone book, YellowPagesGoesGreen.com has a sign-up page to terminate the yearly delivery of books. If you don’t trust them, Olivia Zaleski recommends a series of steps to stop Dex from showing up on your doorstep.

How long has it been since you’ve responded to unsolicited mail. For that matter, how long has it been since you’ve solicited physical mail? And if you spend enough time on the internet to waste it on blogs like this, you probably don’t bother cracking the book when you need to find a phone number. So it’s a step towards a more sustainable life without any sacrifice. Seems like a no-brainer.

Reducing Packaging Waste

December 12, 2008

One of the things which drives me nuts about shopping is the amount of packaging. We seem to have been victims of “packaging creep.” Now just about any sort of consumer good has some type of cardboard container, two layers of hard plastic clamshell cases, a few pieces of styrofoam, and soft plastic bags surrounding everything. When you’re done shopping, and after you find a way to break upon the seemingly impenetrable packaging, you end up with half-a-dozen plastic bags. All of this plastic has to be disposed of—most of it ending up preventing natural decomposition in landfills, or collecting in the ocean.

So its nice to see that the tide may be turning. I see more people declining bags when their purchases are easy to carry (something I’ve practiced for years—I don’t need an extra plastic bag for a package of pencils or an apple!). Reusable gift bags are becoming more popular, a more sustainable option than gift wrapping. More people are using reusable shopping bags. More stores are offering bulk bin options for foods and cleaning supplies, which eliminates individual containers. Amazon is trying what should be a common-sense idea of utilizing “frustration-free” packaging, which minimizes the packaging and appears to be fully recyclable.

Small steps, but worthwhile ones to promote. How else can we cut down on the waste associated with shopping?

O’Reilly and Buttars are Right

December 10, 2008

The Lord does care about Christmas retail campaigns!

Jesus Returns To Give Consumers Christmas Pep Talk

warning: contains satirical references to Christ. Do not click if you find such humor offensive

Celebrating Christmas

November 30, 2008

Given our goal of making Christmas less superficial and material, more spiritual and meaningful, my wife and I have spent a fair amount of time mulling over how to accomplish this. It isn’t enough merely to avoid shopping on Buy Nothing Day, or to limit the money spent on gifts. There needs to be positive steps, rather than merely negative ones (Christmas commission rather than merely Christmas omission). What do you do to replace the malls and credit card charges?

We find that it starts with emphasizing activities. There are many community events available this time of year which can help make the season memorable. In theory, I’m less reluctant to spend money on events than gifts: while the event itself is more transient than a “thing,” the impact can last far longer than most material gifts. In practice, there are so many free events celebrating Christmas that we rarely attend events which charge.

For us, one of the greatest aspects of the Christmas experience is music. While I’m no fan of most of the “Christmas contemporary” genre, I find great joy in traditional Christmas music. There is little we look forward to more than the Christmas Carol Service of Salt Lake’s Cathedral of the Madeleine. The traditional Catholic music is so ethereal and reverential, and the Cathedral is such a gorgeous setting. We find ourselves awed every time. If you are interested, call early for (free) tickets.

They don’t seem to have any specifically Christmas programs, but I’ve attended a couple services at Salt Lake City’s Calvary Baptist Church in December. I really enjoy Gospel music, and the services are always jubilant. It’s a nice change of perspective.

There are virtually nonstop concerts around Temple Square for your enjoyment throughout December.

Last year we found that the Utah Cultural Celebration Center had a dozen or so Christmas concerts in December, from musical traditions around the world. My favorite was the Peruvian group—Andean music is entrancing.

Another event at the Cultural Celebration Center is the Trees of Diversity exhibit. Years ago, I went to the Festival of Trees and was terribly disappointed. Most of the trees were nothing more than marketing promotions: The Jazz had donated a tree with ornaments of players and logos; KSL’s tree was covered with news anchors, logos, and topped with a news chopper; Michael McLean had a tree adorned with CD cases from his latest albums. Do those displays say anything meaningful about Christmas? The Trees of Diversity exhibit, on the other hand, was beautiful. Each tree was decorated with handcrafted ornaments from a given traditional culture. We could see what each group valued about Christmas, and we learned a little something about their culture.

Convention says that the gift-giving tradition on Christmas is meant to represent God’s gift to the world of His Son, Jesus Christ. But a crucial aspect of that gift is that the gift of Jesus and the Atonement was given to a world entirely undeserving, and yet one in desperate need of that gift. In the same spirit, I think we symbolize the Christmas gift so much more by giving to those in need. So many lack material or spiritual sustenance. I can’t imagine a better gift to our Father than to memorialize his Son through service. Do we or our families need the new fashions, gadgets, or gizmos which typically make up Christmas? Or could our resources meet more crucial needs in others?

Giving generously to charity is certainly worthwhile. The Salvation Army and (for us Mormons) the LDS humanitarian services are a couple of the most prominent options. Several local organizations are sponsoring the Angel Tree program in Utah, which is a good way to connect specific individuals/families with donors, making it a more personal act of service. The Feminist Mormon Housewives team has created a Kiva Account to help raise funds for third-world people through the concept of microcredit, pioneered by Grameen Bank. One year we worked with my extended family to raise the funds to send an African student to college in concert with Signs of Hope international.

We have increasingly been looking to find situations in which we can contribute time as well as money. Last year a family in our neighborhood with three children under eight-years-old made a couple dozen Christmas cards, and then spent a day in a nursing home delivering cards, singing songs, and talking with the residents. For a recent Christmas, we arranged for our extended family to purchase materials for and then together assemble newborn “kits” for the Teddy Bear Den to distribute to needy single mothers. All of the young children in the family eagerly participated in filling the kits, thrilled to know that they were helping “babies.”

We still do some traditional gift-giving. I am intrigued by the idea of celebrating Christmas entirely without exchanging gifts, partly because I realize that celebrating Buy Nothing Day accomplishes nothing if you just spend the money a few days later. While we haven’t gone that far yet, we try to make as many of our gifts as possible. Over the last several years, we’ve had a lot of fun learning how to make wind-chimes, lamps, bean-bag chairs, homebound journals, art, etc. It isn’t necessarily cheaper than purchased gifts, but they are more personal.

When we must buy gifts (or the supplies for gifts), we try to shop locally owned businesses as much as possible. One good option in SLC is Earth Goods General Store, which honored Buy Nothing Day by remaining closed Friday, and which specializes in environmentally friendly items.

For a few more days, you have the option of a viewing the Old World Christmas Market at Gallivan Plaza, where you can buy hand crafted gifts from local artisans.

No doubt, it takes more work to make time for the various events and the service activities in which we want to participate. It can be hard to resist the allure of stuff. But we’ve found that our holiday is strangely less stressful and more rich as we focus on relationships and experiences.

What do you do to make your Christmas season meaningful? What events go on in your community, here or elsewhere, which you look forward to?

Buy Nothing Day

November 26, 2008

For me, the day after Thanksgiving has always been the real holiday. Neither the turkey nor the wall-to-wall football has ever excited me. But Friday was the day for unpacking the Christmas decorations, dusting off the holiday records, and welcoming in the Christmas season. This, I loved.

Among our Friday traditions was the mall crawl. Our family would pile into the van and brave the packed freeway to SLC, where we would wander three or four of the malls. We never got up in the wee hours to make the opening rush—as a family of night owls, I’m not sure you could get us up and out the door before first light if the house was on fire. But once we had taken care of the morning festivities, we wandered the malls until closing time.

Looking back, I’m rather embarrassed. Much of the thrill was simply seeing all the things I wanted, all the thing I might possibly get. Occasionally we would get gifts for others on the trip, but the tradition was primarily an opportunity to finalize our wishlists. Virtually our first act of the season was to pay homage to commercialism.

I’ve grown older, hopefully wiser, and have come to understand the shallow nature of consumerism, and appreciate the importance of sustainable living and simplicity. I’m no longer interested in celebrating C.S. Lewis’ aptly named “Rush.” Now I’m an advocate of Buy Nothing Day.

Honoring Buy Nothing Day isn’t very difficult. You simply don’t go shopping. There are plenty of other activities with which to fill your time.

Why not usher in the celebration of our Lord and elder brother by spending quality time with family? Black Friday is often spent with family, but I’m skeptical that time spent in lines, rushing to catch some special before stock runs out, or weaving over blacktop looking for a decent parking spot qualifies as quality time. Instead, why not spend the day making your Christmas decor? It isn’t so long ago that homes were not dressed for the holidays by Wal-Mart and Target. Families made their decorations, from the tree ornaments, to paper snowflakes, to the wreath, and even the nativity. How often do people still make those paper chains with which to count down the days until Christmas? While those earlier families may not financially have had the option of buying pre-made Christmas furnishings, I think they may have been better for the time together making their Christmases.

Not all of my enjoyment of Black Friday came from avarice. I am an extrovert by nature, and am energized by crowds. Being in among the (more or less) jolly throngs thrilled me. I love traditional Christmas music (and some few contemporary creations). Fortunately, I find that there are plenty of ways to enjoy the multitudes without offering up sacrifices at the altar of corporatism. Temple Square lights up for the season on Friday. Starting at 4:30, SLC’s Gallivan Center will host a “lights on” celebration, with a concert by Kurt Bestor and a children’s choir. Those less clumsy than I might enjoy Gallivan’s ice skating. Gateway is also sponsoring music and a tree lighting—just don’t be seduced into the stores lining the way.

Several local charitable and progressive groups are sponsoring at Coat Exchange at the Salt Lake City Library plaza, from 10:00-3:00 on Friday. Helping out at this or some other charitable activity would be a wonderful way to start the season.

What other traditions do you have to begin the holiday off right? What traditions have you considered starting? What other things are happening in your communities to ring in the season without a cash register?

Addendum

We just got through with being interviewed by Chris Jones for KUTV (channel 2) news about this post. Apparently he wanted to do a report on Buy Nothing Day in Utah, and googled my post. They came to our house, asked us some questions, and filmed us decorating our tree. Of all the posts I’d written, this is not the one I’d expected to get media attention. If you’re interested in seeing me being a stammering fool (as opposed to a typing fool), keep an eye on the news.

BYU Professor Chris Foster on Animal Advocacy

July 23, 2008

Yesterday, BYU Professor Chris Foster gave an interview on KCPW’s The Public Square about animal advocacy and humane treatment. I think his arguments are very persuasive. Of course, I’ve never been a fan of the machismo and violence of the rodeo. And over the recent years, I’ve been moving my family more and more towards a plant-based diet. I’m not necessarily planning on a strictly vegan or vegetarian diet, if for no other reason that there are some meats and animal products which I really enjoy (sadly, my favorite meats tend to be the most highly processed, the various sausages). Any consideration of an outright ban is met with a fit from my palate. So instead, I’m simply seeing how many great meals I can make without meats, or with very small quantities of meat. I’ve found plenty of pasta, legume, or grain salads which are every bit as delicious as any meat entree. I’ve learned plenty of ways to get protein and the umami hit of meat without resorting to a cow (I’m not keen the texture of tofu, but there are plenty of ways to prepare great tempeh dishes!). I hear that many who go for a plant-based diet end up finding meat distasteful. If that happens, great. If not, we’ll continue to eat meat on occasion to satisfy those occasional carnivorous urges, but focus on plant sources of nutrients.

Concern for the treatment of animals is only one factor in my decision. The meat-based diet of modern U.S. society has been a key factor in the rise in obesity, heart disease, and various other ailments over the past few decades. Given the recent concern over food production and costs, it is worth noting that meat is a terribly inefficient source of energy; it takes many more times the amount of energy and land to produce a calorie of meat than to produce the same amount from plants. Many free-market advocates have made a big deal about the impact of increased biofuel production on food production, and their points are certainly not invalid. But long-term, the increasing emphasis on meat in diets throughout the world, and the increasing amount of resources needed to provide that meat, could be seen as a far greater threat to the world’s food supply than biofuels. Rather than encouraging developing nations to adopt the Western/U.S. style diet, we should probably be doing more to adopt diets more similar to theirs and to our ancestors. As Professor Foster pointed out, such diets would be much more consistent with the counsel of the Word of Wisdom than the hamburgers, hotdogs, steaks, roast beef, and other staples of the U.S. (and Mormon) diet today.

Earth Day Reflections on Consumption

April 22, 2008

There is reason to be optimistic about the environmental movement as we celebrate this Earth Day. No longer the province of hippies and other “fringe” members of society, Earth Day has become more mainstream. While there may not be unanimity about global climate change, acceptance is spreading even among the ranks of the Republicans. While federal action has been mixed at best, many local governments such as Salt Lake City have taken bold steps to promote environmental values. “Green” architecture is becoming rather popular. There are more options for consumers to make renewable energy choices. Hybrid vehicles have been enormously popular. The selection of environmentally friendly consumer products continues to grow, from compact fluorescent light bulbs to cleaning supplies, to home building materials and furnishings. Local entrepreneurs have successfully opened environmentally friendly businesses, such as Earth Goods General Store, Underfoot Floors, The Green Building Center, and Green Peas Baby. The “green consumer revolution” is a positive development to see.

As grateful as I am to see the rise of environmentally friendly consumer choices out there, I’m skeptical about relying on new products, new technologies, and new energy sources to solve our environmental problems. Every new development comes with overlooked disadvantages and unforseen consequences. We’ve seen it happen before with hydroelectric power, with nuclear power, and now with much of the biofuels craze (nod to Jeremy). We have to realize that there are no perpetual motion machines, no magic pills to solve our environmental problems. It all comes back to consumption. Monica Hesse, columnist for the Washington Post, recently made some very keen points.

When renowned environmentalist Paul Hawken is asked to comment on the new green consumer, he says, dryly, “The phrase itself is an oxymoron.”

…The good thing is people are waking up to the fact that we have a real [environmental] issue,” says Hawken, who co-founded Smith & Hawken but left in 1992, before the $8,000 lawn became de rigueur. “But many of them are coming to the issue from being consumers. They buy a lot. They drive a lot.”

They subscribe, in other words, to a destiny laid out by economist Victor Lebow, writing in 1955: “Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction…in consumption…We need things consumed, burned up, replaced and discarded at an ever-accelerating rate.”

The culture of obsolescence has become so deeply ingrained that it’s practically reflexive. Holey sweaters get pitched, not mended. Laptops and cellphones get slimmer and shinier and smaller. We trade up every six months, and to make up for that, we buy and buy and hope we’re buying the right other things, though sometimes we’re not sure: When the Hartman Group, a market research firm, asked a group of devout green consumers what the USDA “organic” seal meant when placed on a product, 43 percent did not know. (The seal means that the product is at least 95 percent organic—no pesticides, no synthetic hormones, no sewage sludge, no irradiation, no cloning.)…

…Really going green, Hawken says, “means having less. It does mean less. Everyone is saying, ‘You don’t have to change your lifestyle.’ Well, yes, actually, you do.” (“Greed In the Name Of Green

In her own essay on the subject for Sojourners, Kim Szeto noted

True environmental consciousness will challenge the way we respond to our culture of consumerism and create changes in lifestyles. I do think that you can be an environmentally conscious consumer. However, this will most likely mean being less of a consumer to begin with, and when you do have to put on your consumer hat, be critical and read between the lines of “brand organic” (as well as everyone else’s) advertisements. (“Green Greed“)

No matter how environmentally friendly a given product is, its production will generate some level of waste and pollution. The best way to conserve energy is not to use it in the beginning.

(for an interesting analysis of consumption, view The Story of Stuff )

There are other reasons besides environmentalism to try to reduce consumption. Over the course of the last few years it has been reported many times that average household consumer debt is at all all-time records (adjusted for inflation) as is the average household’s debt-to-savings ratio. This places our families in rather precarious financial positions, often causes a great deal of stress for (and friction between) couples, and distracts us from many of the more important aspects of life.

The U.S. has long been swayed by the siren song of overconsumption, wryly diagnosed as “affluenza.” Despite the fact that our families have almost halved over the past half-century, house size has almost doubled. The number of automobiles in our driveways have multiplied like rabbits, and have burgeoned in size—despite a persistent lack of passengers when on the road. I wouldn’t even hazard a guess at how much larger our television screens have grown, nor how many more we have per household. Then there is the proliferation of other electronics, the clothes, the toys—for adults as much as children.

Do the bigger houses, bigger screens, and more toys make us any happier or more fulfilled?

I don’t propose that we live as beggars or luddites. But I believe we can make more conscious choices about how we live. Can we live just as well in a smaller house? Would life be worse without all the video game consoles and other toys? Can we make do with one less car, or even without a car altogether (Local blogger Green Jen has been documenting her efforts to wean herself from her car)? Can we make do with what we have? Can we find another use for that which we plan to throw away? Have we considered the all-but-forgotten environmentalist maxim: Reduce, reuse, recycle? The answers and methods will legitimately be different for each of us, but I suspect there are few among us who cannot find ways they could significantly reduce consumption.

There has been a quiet movement rejecting conspicuous consumption and encouraging more frugality, providing a number of resources for those interested in exploring a simpler lifestyle. If you are interested, look into these.

Books

Internet Resources

  • New Roadmap Foundation was founded by Dominguez and Robin to provide support and tools for people in their efforts to change their relationship with money and align their living choices with their values.
  • The Simple Living Network provides resources for people in their quest for a more simple life.
  • The Dollar Stretcher is a great online resource for ways to save money, reduce consumption, and be frugal.
  • Freecycle is an online community dedicated to reducing waste through re-use.

The local Utah Society for Environmental Educators sponsors and mentors discussion groups for people interested in starting programs in voluntary simplicity and sustainable living.

It is difficult to make frugal choices in a world which revels so much in reflexive materialism. The consumption is so much a part of our culture that our President’s answer to terrorism and to economic difficulties is the same: go forth to the mall and buy! Vice President Cheney claims that our lifestyle is non-negotiable. I disagree; persistent untreated affluenza will lead to ruin. Like any addiction, kicking the consumption habit is challenging—having been raised in a very consumptive family, I truly understand! But through the effort we can find greater peace of mind, more financial security, more time for the things we really value, a greater joy in our relationships and experiences, and a healthier planet to boot.

Moral Responsibility on Global Climate Change: Take Two

March 14, 2008

In my last post, I used the example of one particularly widespread argument against the Kyoto Protocols as an example of the sort of inappropriate moral relativism which is often used in politics. I made the case that you cannot ethically use the argument that “if they don’t do x, we shouldn’t do x” on this—or any other—issue. And yet, in the comments, one poster completely ignored my argument and rehashed the very position I had been criticizing.

According to the International Energy Agency, as much as 85 percent of the projected increase in CO2 emissions over the next 20 years will be produced in exempt countries like China. As long as China is exempt from Kyoto (or the like), what evidence shows that the rest of us – even in unanimous die-hard commitment- can put a dent in the climate change problem?

Not to put to fine a point on it, this is simply a morally bankrupt argument. Would we argue that because our efforts will not make a dent in the level of global infidelity in society, we should not bother being faithful to our spouses? Others will continue to steal whether or not I do—so why shouldn’t I get mine? My lack of participation hasn’t made any splash in the drunk driving rate, so why shouldn’t I go ahead and get liquored up behind the wheel?

We should expect ourselves to do the moral, the just thing, regardless of what others do, regardless of whether we think it will make a difference. We are called to fight the good fight because it is right.

And will it make a difference? Maybe not. But maybe—just maybe—when the most wealthy and economic power is willing to repent for its monumental contribution to the problem in question (carbon emissions and global climate change) by committing to and achieving massive change, that leadership may inspire other nations to follow our example. I am an idealist, and I do believe in miracles. I could be naive. But I can absolutely guarantee that no dent will be made if nobody is willing to make the committment.

This commentor brings up another issue of morality important to address in all realms of politics and social action.

We have a moral obligation to be good stewards of this earth. I do not feel morally obligated to support international treaties that would slow wage growth, widen the rich-poor gap by eliminating the middle class, or raise taxes. Government action is will coerced. Coerced morality is not morality at all.

People of the libertarian persuasion often bring up the immorality of government coercion in rejecting government action on a given topic. Because government’s authority ultimately comes from the point of a gun, any claims to morality are merely pretense. The only real morality is individual in action.

I agree that freedom is a crucial concern, as I noted in my post “Social Justice III: The Libertarian Criticism of Social Justice”. However, this claim does not trump all other concerns. No libertarian I know of would claim that murder should be legal. I’ve heard of none who would claim that freedom of speech permits people to use that speech to deliberately put others in harms way (the classic “yelling fire in a crowded theater” scenario). No libertarian politician has suggested theft should be decriminalized. No, even libertarians recognize what John Stewart Mill referred to as the harm principle.

That principle is, that the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others (On Liberty)

Government has the authority, granted it by the consent of the people, to restrict the freedom of the people when the exercise of that freedom would result in harm to others. Say what you want about the government’s monopoly on violence; given the widely recognized harm principle, it is fundamentally immoral for the government not to use its power to prevent direct harm to others in the name of freedom.

There is a great deal of evidence that the byproducts of our consumption (the production of the goods we use, the powering and use of those goods, the disposal of those goods, the energy to transport those goods or ourselves, et al) is causing great harm to others. This happens on a local scale (along the Wasatch Front, there are a number of days each winter and summer when we are advised not to breath the air). And I believe that there is pretty comprehensive evidence that this is also happening on a global scale.

As I said in my original post, there are other arguments which can be made the Kyoto Protocols. You may believe that human activity does not impact climate, that our consumption activities cause no direct harm in that regard. If the volume of scientific data and opinion which has come forth in the past couple decades hasn’t convinced you, I’m certainly not about to try here. You may believe that there are other methods are more likely to effect positive change than international agreements or federal legislation. I may disagree with those arguments, but they are morally legitimate positions. The “they’re not, so I won’t” and government coercion arguments are not. When people use those arguments, they undercut any sort of rational discourse and any moral authority they might have.

This Green House — Building and Remodeling to Reduce Energy Consumption

March 3, 2008

From Post Carbon SLC:

This Green House — Building and Remodeling to Reduce Energy Consumption

  • Friday, March 7, 2008, 7:00-9:00 pm
  • First Unitarian Church, 569 S 1300 E, SLC

Did you know that buildings are the largest users of energy in the United States (Almost as much as industry and transportation combined!)? Did you know that in Utah, our reliance on coal-fired power plants means that your house is part of the air-quality problem? Is your house, apartment, place of business or worship an energy hog? What steps can you take personally to reduce your energy footprint and become part of the solution?

The evening will begin with a brief presentation of fundamental facts on building energy use reduction by Myron Willson, MHTN Architects. A recent Salt Lake Tribune article noted that Myron is “one of the few architects in the state whose sole duty is to look for environmentally friendly strategies in every design project.” This presentation will be followed by a panel discussion with Myron and other SLC experts who will answer questions about what you can do to reduce your personal, business, and congregational impacts on the planet. You will leave this presentation with practical ideas for reducing your overall energy consumption (and energy costs), and reducing your impact on air quality and global warming.

This presentation is part of a Lecture Discussion Series co-sponsored by Post Carbon Salt Lake and the Environmental Ministry of the First Unitarian Church of Salt Lake City. We are pleased to welcome Utah Interfaith Power and Light as a sponsor this month. Previous speakers have included Vanessa Pierce, HEAL Utah, outgoing Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson, Dr. Brian Moench of Utah Physicians for a Health Environment, newly elected Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, Utah Moms for Clean Air, and The University of Utah Student Leaders of S.E.E.D. (Sustainable Environmental and Ecological Design).

War on Christmas

November 30, 2007

It seems that over the course of the last few years, members of the Right have become agitated over some sinister Left-wing “War on Christmas.” Ron Paul laments the decline of Christmas at the hands of the the supposed “anti-religious elites” among the liberals (Paul’s notion that “a rigid separation between church and state has no basis in either the text of the Constitution or the writings of our Founding Fathers” shows an astonishing lack of understanding about the writings of the Founders, but I’ll address the Right-wing church-and-state foolishness another time). Dr. Dobson implores his legions to avoid patronizing businesses which market the “holidays” instead of Christmas. Bill O’Reilly insists to a scornful David Letterman that “you can’t say ‘Christmas’ ” because “politically correct people” are trying to “erode our traditions.” The American Family Association mounts a consumer campaign against the Gap because—you guessed it—it lacks the proper number of references to Christmas.

How silly.

I would agree that there are problems with the modern celebration of Christmas. And, as usual, the Right is barking up the wrong tree.

Why in the world do these people think that the Savior cares whether he is referred to in a marketing slogan? Merry Christmas—and don’t forget to check out our specials on aisle seven! Merry Christmas, brought to you by Target! This makes the season more meaningful? You think you’re gonna find Jesus in Wal-Mart?

Somehow, I don’t think so.

Christmas hasn’t been secularized by Jesus-hating Liberals. Christmas has been secularized by commercialism and by a society which has given into the orgy of consumerism. Oh sure, we give gifts in remembrance of the gift of the Savior. Somehow I don’t think that the gift exchanges and gift rotations so common in Christmas today capture the spirit of the Lord’s unselfish gift of His son.

Several decades ago, C.S. Lewis , brilliant wit that he was, penned “Xmas and Christmas: A Lost Chapter from Herodotus,” a wonderful satire about a fantastical land in which two celebrations “Crissmas” and “Exmas” (marked by a tradition Lewis refers to as “The Rush”) were celebrated on the same day.

But I myself conversed with a priest in one of these temples and asked him why they kept Crissmas on the same day as Exmas; for it appeared to me inconvenient. But the priest replied, “It is not lawful, O stranger, for us to change the date of Chrissmas, but would that Zeus would put it into the minds of the Niatirbians to keep Exmas at some other time or not to keep it at all. For Exmas and the Rush distract the minds even of the few from sacred things. And we indeed are glad that men should make merry at Crissmas; but in Exmas there is no merriment left.” And when I asked him why they endured the Rush, he replied, “It is, O Stranger, a racket”; using (as I suppose) the words of some oracle and speaking unintelligibly to me (for a racket is an instrument which the barbarians use in a game called tennis).

My wife and I have decided to try to avoid the retailers and their holiday Rush altogether. We have noticed, like Lewis, that the atmosphere of commercialism detracts from the beauty of Christmas. There is nothing innately wrong with getting a gift for those you love. I’ve had fun during past Christmases in which I’ve really done some searching to try to find gifts which will wow my wife (and often gone well over budget in the process…). But ultimately, we’ve come to realize that the more involved we are in looking for gifts and spending money, the less we are focused on the meaning of the Savior’s birth. The less focused we are on the Savior at Christmas, the more superficial it ultimately feels. While we are really excited to open our presents, the afterglow rapidly vanishes. And the harried “Rush” of shopping often overwhelmed the joy of the season. So we minimize the gift exchanges we participate in, try to make as many gifts we give as possible, and try to spend our holiday season giving to those in need and spending quality time with friends and family. Nothing could be more pleasant—and the cheer lasts much longer!

I suspect that if the Right-Wing Christmas alarmists worried more about selfless service in the manner of Him for whom the holiday is named, and fretted less about the marketing verbiage of Wal-Mart, Sears, and the Gap, they might have the kind of merry and sacred Christmas they so desire.


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